Online Students Need Reputation Management
Students beware!! Your actions and interactions outside of the classroom are leaving behind a digital footprint that is accessible by employers or anyone who wants to learn more about you. A recent New York Times blog post, The Growing Business of Online Reputation Management, summed it up best: “As quickly as images, blog posts, commentary, status updates and photos are posted on the Web, they are replicated by algorithms and search engines, and dissipate like an airborne virus – the Internet is a permanent record of our past, and it never forgets anything posted online.” Should you live in fear of what might be available online? Absolutely not. What you should do is take a proactive approach and develop a strong digital image that represents who you are, including your professional goals and interests.
The Pew Internet Project published results of a research study that was conducted in 2006 about Digital Footprints. From November to December over 2,300 adults (age 18 and up) were interviewed by telephone to learn about their Internet use and beliefs. While the information is slightly dated, it does provide valuable insight that is still relevant today. The study concluded that 43% of the participants “neither worry about their personal information nor take steps to limit the amount of information that can be found out about them online.” When these adults checked the Internet, through use of a search engine, 60% found accurate information in the results list.
What does this tell you? It is important to take personal responsibility for checking the information that can be found about you because there is a real possibility that almost anything you have posted, even as harmless fun, may visible for anyone to view. It is not a matter of living in fear but being in control of your reputation and image. If you have academic and career goals you need to demonstrate social responsibility and ethical behavior through your online activities, which includes the use of social networking websites.
Social media is one of the quickest methods for developing a digital footprint as your interactions are recorded and viewable, depending upon your account settings. If you are seeking career opportunities, you should be aware that employers are looking for your information on social networking websites and it is estimated that “91% of employers use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. as a screening tool for potential employees.” Within one quick search, employers can make an assessment of your background, characteristics, and interests – to determine if they will pursue your application further. Just as your posts in an online classroom represent you as a student, your online posts outside of the classroom represent you as a digital citizen.
Matt Ivester wrote a book for college students titled lol ? OMG!: What Every Student Needs to Know About Reputation Management with the goal of helping you “make the right decisions, to take control, to think carefully about every online activity.” Ivester wants students to be aware of the gap that often exists between what they say and do when compared to the activities they participate in online, specifically with social networking websites. In other words, you may present yourself in a certain manner in class or with a potential employer and they discover through an Internet search that it is in conflict with the reputation you’ve established online. If you do not make a conscious effort to monitor or control your online activities you may be undermining your reputation without even being aware that it is occurring.
Ivester offers several methods to manage your reputation, including:
• Take an online inventory of yourself
• Realize that your online audience is more than just your friends
• Take advantage of privacy settings on social networks
Here are methods of assessing your current online reputation:
• Utilize a search engine to conduct a name search. What results do you find? Are they accurate? You may be surprised at the number of sources that are linked to your name.
• View your social networking websites as a visitor to the website, without being logged onto the website. What information is easily accessible? If you write down this information as a list, would that accurately portray who you are?
• Since many social media sites can be managed unprofessionally because of status updates, photos, applications, and other features, check the settings to determine if any adjustments are needed. Facebook is often considered one of the least professionally oriented social networking websites so check your Facebook account settings, security settings, and applications settings to review and make any necessary adjustments.
Control of Your Image
Now that you understand the importance of taking personal responsibility for your digital footprint and avoiding a negative reputation, you can take a proactive approach with the development of a positive image. Reputation management is more than making certain you have the “right” image for a potential employer; it’s a matter of engaging in online activities that as a whole represent you, what you value, and what you want to be known for as a student or employee. It’s your integrity and personal characteristics that are viewed when others look at your online profiles. The following suggestions will help put you in control of your image and reputation by linking positive elements to your name.
1. Determine what your digital image should be. Monitor your timeline on Facebook, along with the profiles you’ve written and posted on other social networking websites.
A. What values do you want to be evident through your online activities?
B. Also check the content and the mechanics (spelling and grammar) of your profiles. As you check the content, consider potential copyright issues for published information or photos.
C. Review your list of friends on Facebook and ask yourself if you know all of the people listed. For those friends that you do not know, would your privacy be compromised in any way by leaving them on the list?
2. Consider developing an active presence on LinkedIn, which is quickly becoming one of the largest professional networking websites. There are professional online groups you can join through LinkedIn, which will allow you to share ideas and information with others who hold similar career interests, while also learning about potential opportunities.
3. Create a blog to demonstrate your professional and/or academic interests, as a means of enhancing your reputation. As noted in The Power of a Positive Digital Footprint for Students, “attaching your name to engaging blog posts shows you’re passionate about a topic and can display your communicative skills.” There are websites that will allow you to create and publish a blog for free, such as Blogger and WordPress. You can also provide comments on others’ blogs as a means of establishing your name and reputation. There is a caution noted within the study, Digital Footprints: “One in five working American adults (20%) says their employer has a special policy about how employees present themselves online—including what can be shared and posted on blogs and other websites.” Be sure to check with your employer ahead of time to avoid this potential issue.
4. Create an online resume utilizing a free service such as VisualCV. This website allows you to bring your resume to “3-dimensional life with video, images, and examples of your work.” There is also a VisualCV for Students, which allows you to create a customizable portfolio instead of a traditional resume. You are encouraged to include documents such as projects, assignments, letters of recommendation, etc.
As you look ahead at the goals you have established, you must consider what information is readily accessible about you on the Internet as it may align with your characteristics and values or undermine your reputation. Developing a positive image can be viewed as your personal brand, which is done through a careful and well thought out strategy. As you review your online activities remember that you are leaving a digital footprint that will last for many years and keep this question in mind: what does your digital image say about you?
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